Intro to Intelligence

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:56 The Bell Curve
  • 2:37 Ulric Neisser
  • 3:05 Charles Spearman
  • 3:43 General Global Intelligence
  • 4:05 Specific Intelligence
Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Polly Peterson
We all want to be smart in one way or another, but what exactly is general intelligence? This lesson takes a look at the possible factors behind intellectual development and how this controversial topic has been examined by psychologists.

Few topics in psychology are as hotly debated or have as controversial a history as intelligence. The question of whether intelligence depends on biological or educational factors took a dark turn in the history of intelligence research. Many view intelligence as the human trait most directly related to success; so the stakes are high when psychologists set out to determine just how much control we have over our own intellectual development. Studies of intelligence have historically been used to justify discrimination, so modern researchers tackling the subject must be careful about research design and data interpretation.

In 1994, two American scholars published a best-selling, controversial book called The Bell Curve. The book proposes that intelligence is determined in part by genetics, and that African Americans and Latinos have genetically lower intelligence than Caucasians and Asian Americans. The authors also argue that since highly intelligent people tend to rise to the top of business and social circles, they're continually separating themselves as a class from less intelligent people. Their findings were rejected by many as a defense of race-based inequality, and as something that could be used to argue against programs designed to help historically underprivileged groups.

But how do we decide whether someone is intelligent or not? The Bell Curve relied extensively on standardized intelligence tests, but the accuracy and usefulness of these tests has been questioned since tests like this tend to favor people who are culturally similar to the test's designers. Is it possible to study intelligence in a way that doesn't inherently disadvantage one group or another?

Let's begin by attempting to define what intelligence truly is. Most people would agree that humans are smarter than other animals. But beyond that, how can we measure a person's intelligence compared to the rest of the population? Should intelligence be defined by the ability to do well in school, or instead in terms of common-sense street smarts; by the ability to solve problems, or to maintain emotional relationships? Are people who read lots of books smarter than people who can quickly pick up new forms of dance?

A broad, more inclusive definition of intelligence was proposed by a group of psychologists led by Ulric Neisser. They said that intelligence is the 'ability to understand complex ideas, to adapt effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, to engage in various forms of reasoning and to overcome obstacles by taking thought.' According to Neisser and his colleagues, you're smart if you can succeed at a variety of interrelated tasks.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register for a free trial

Are you a student or a teacher?
I am a teacher
What is your educational goal?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 10 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 49 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,000 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Click "next lesson" whenever you finish a lesson and quiz. Got It
You now have full access to our lessons and courses. Watch the lesson now or keep exploring. Got It
You're 25% of the way through this course! Keep going at this rate,and you'll be done before you know it.
The first step is always the hardest! Congrats on finishing your first lesson. Go to Next Lesson Take Quiz
Way to go! If you watch at least 30 minutes of lessons each day you'll master your goals before you know it. Go to Next Lesson Take Quiz
Congratulations on earning a badge for watching 10 videos but you've only scratched the surface. Keep it up! Go to Next Lesson Take Quiz
You've just watched 20 videos and earned a badge for your accomplishment! Go to Next Lesson Take Quiz
You've just earned a badge for watching 50 different lessons. Keep it up, you're making great progress! Go to Next Lesson Take Quiz
You just watched your 100th video lesson. You have earned a badge for this achievement! Go to Next Lesson Take Quiz
Congratulations! You just finished watching your 200th lesson and earned a badge! Go to Next Lesson Take Quiz
Congratulations! You just finished watching your 300th lesson and earned a badge! Go to Next Lesson Take Quiz
You are a superstar! You have earned the prestigious 500 video lessons watched badge. Go to Next Lesson Take Quiz
Incredible. You have just entered the exclusive club and earned the 1000 videos watched badge. Go to Next Lesson Take Quiz
You have earned a badge for watching 20 minutes of lessons.
You have earned a badge for watching 50 minutes of lessons.
You have earned a badge for watching 100 minutes of lessons.
You have earned a badge for watching 250 minutes of lessons.
You have earned a badge for watching 500 minutes of lessons.
You have earned a badge for watching 1000 minutes of lessons.